GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

Comhairle Choitcheann Teagaisg na h-Alba

General Teaching Council for Scotland Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome

Panel Meeting

17 February 2021

 Teacher Bing Wang (not present)
 Registration Number 059306
 Registration category Provisional – Secondary – Art and Design
 Panel Gillian Fagan, Pamela McIntosh and Diane Molyneux
 Legal Assessor Gareth Jones
 Servicing Officer Isobel Allan
 Presenting Officer Gary Burton (not present)
 Teacher's representative N/A

Any reference in this decision to:

  • 'GTCS' means the General Teaching Council for Scotland
  • the 'Panel' means the Fitness to Teach Panel considering the case
  • the 'Rules' (and any related expression) means the GTCS Fitness to Teach and Appeals Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them

Background

The Panel Meeting was arranged to consider the following:
  • An application made by the Presenting Officer for a virtual Full Hearing to be held by way of Microsoft Teams.

By default, GTCS conducts all its fitness to teach hearings in person in its dedicated Hearings Suite at its office in Edinburgh. However, a fitness to teach panel may order that all or any part of a hearing may be conducted by the use of electronic communications provided the method adopted allows the parties, the panel and any witnesses to attend remotely, and, where the hearing is in public, allows the public to view proceedings.

Electronic communications are commonly used for witnesses to give evidence by participating from a remote location. In addition, an entire hearing may be conducted via electronic communication. Such a hearing is described as a ‘virtual hearing’.

At present, due to Scottish Government restrictions and guidelines on public interaction and concerns about public safety as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, hearings in person cannot currently take place at the GTCS office.

An application for use of electronic communications in relation to a participant taking part in a hearing from a remote location or for a virtual hearing is made by the party who wants to use electronic communication. The relevant procedure and criteria for determining such applications are set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.

Evidence

In accordance with Rule 1.7.17, the Panel admitted all of the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the meeting:
  1. Presenting Officer Application for a Virtual Hearing, dated 17 December 2020
  2. Appendix to Application
  3. Email with Case Management Directions, dated 15 December 2020
  4. CMDs to Teacher, delivery receipt, dated 15 December 2020
  5. Response from Teacher confirming not engaging, dated 15 December 2020
  6. Response from Servicing Officer to Teacher, dated 15 December 2020.

Preliminary Matters

There were no preliminary matters raised for the Panel to consider.

Application for Virtual Hearing

An application dated 17 December 2020 for a virtual hearing was made by the Presenting Officer. The Panel considered the application and any submissions made in response.

In the application the Presenting Officer highlighted that Rules 1.7.6 and 1.7.7 allow for a hearing to be conducted virtually. These Rules state as follows:

Rule 1.7.6 – All or any part of a hearing may be conducted by use of electronic communications provided that –

  1. The Panel has given the parties an opportunity to make representations on the matter and the Panel considers it just and equitable for electronic communications to be used;
  2. The method used allows the parties, the Panel and any witnesses to hear each other; and
  3. Where all or any of the part of the hearing is to be held in public, the method used also allows the public to hear proceedings.

Rule 1.7.7 – Where all or any part of a hearing is conducted by use of electronic communications, for the purpose of these Rules, the meaning of being ‘present’ at a hearing (and any related expressions) will be construed accordingly.

By reference to the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement, the Presenting Officer also highlighted the following factors:

  1. that the Teacher is unrepresented and has indicated that he has no intention of engaging in the process
  2. that all stages of the process require to be determined
  3. that the hearing could be concluded within 3 days
  4. that the evidence relating to the allegations is not complex
  5. that evidence will be led from only three witnesses and the total time estimate for their evidence is 3 hours
  6. that none of the witnesses for GTC Scotland, all of whom are professional witnesses, have any needs that would make a virtual hearing unsuitable
  7. that unless determined otherwise the hearing will be in public
  8. that the combined bundle of papers is limited to 158 pages and the relevant documents from that bundle will be made available to witnesses; and
  9. that the GTC Scotland witnesses will have access to appropriate facilities to allow them to participate in a virtual hearing and a check can be made in advance of the hearing to ensure that the internet connection is suitable and working.

Having regard to all of these factors and the current difficulties in arranging face-to-face hearings, it was submitted by the Presenting Officer that the application for a virtual hearing should be granted.

As well as having sight of the application, the Panel noted that the Teacher had been given an opportunity to make representations and had provided a short response indicating that, while denying the allegations, he does not wish to engage in the fitness to teach process.

Decision

In reaching a decision the Panel had regard to the GTCS Fitness to Teach Rules 2017, and to the guidance set out in the Use of Electronic Communications in Hearings Practice Statement.

The Panel was satisfied, for all of the reasons advanced in the application, that it is just and equitable to conduct the Full Hearing in this case virtually by means of Microsoft Teams. The Teacher has been given an opportunity to respond to the application and has indicated that he does not wish to engage with the process. In the Panel’s assessment, neither the Teacher nor any of the GTCS witnesses, all of whom are professional witnesses, would be disadvantaged by the proceedings being conducted virtually. The Panel and the witnesses will all have access to the relevant documents, which are limited in number, and the Panel will have an opportunity to assess the credibility and reliability of all witnesses.

In reaching a decision the Panel also had regard to the general objective of GTCS, to deal with cases fairly and justly, which includes, so far as practicable, dealing with cases in ways which (a) are proportionate to the complexity of the issues; (b) seek informality and flexibility in proceedings; (c) ensures that parties are able to participate fully in proceedings; and (d) avoids delay, so far as compatible with the proper consideration of the issues. It was the Panel’s view that a fair hearing could be achieved within a timescale that expedites the decision in respect of the Teacher by conducting the hearing virtually.

The Panel also considered that if the Teacher does decide to engage at some point in the future, he can make further representations in relation to the virtual hearing application or any other aspect of the proceedings, should that be appropriate.

Accordingly, the Panel granted the application.